F1 Elvis: Difficult times at McLaren

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McLaren’s going through a very difficult spell right now and doing it all very publicly too.

On track, it’s fairly clear that the MP4-28′s struggling. It’s slow everywhere, inconsistent in terms of handling and in terms of its tyre management, and suffering with the way it rides the kerbs or lumps and bumps in the track. It’s difficult to work on, meaning changes are time consuming and because of the wide range of problems they’re finding, changes are the one thing they’re having to do lots of.

It’s reported Martin Whitmarsh revealed on Saturday a front suspension component fitted incorrectly in Jerez meant that the car ran in an unconventionally low state on the very first day of 2013 pre-season testing. The car was quick out of the box, so to speak, and rivals sat up and took a bit of notice with raised eyebrows at the McLaren after that first day.

Whilst the car performed well in those conditions at Jerez, it was clear, once the team discovered the mistake, that it wasn’t a setup sustainable at other tracks or with heavier fuel loads on board. With the ‘fault’ corrected, the team have struggled to find the form of that first day and the necessity to run at more manageable ride heights has hugely contributed to the car’s handling issues.

The team admitted that Friday’s woes in Melbourne were, in part, due to their attempts at operating again at such low running heights on the bumpy street circuit.

Away from the obvious troubles emanating from their pit garages, McLaren Electronic Systems Ltd (MESL), one of the group’s companies operating out of the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, UK, are having issues of their own.

MESL are the sole supplier of the Standard ECUs and electronic display units used by all teams in Formula One and have substantially upgraded their hardware and associated software for 2013.

The changes to the SECU’s have been dictated by the need to prepare for the sweeping technical changes coming for 2014’s cars. With the systems capable of handling 500 useable data channels last year, the new units have the ability to manage twice that number this season, as that’s what will be required for the new formula on the horizon.

The substantial upgrade has had a number of teething troubles during pre-season testing, causing some teams to lose track time at a crucial period of the year, as they try and integrate it with their own onboard systems… and hasn’t gone down well.

Of course testing’s one thing, but today the system caused serious telemetry issues for front row sitter, Mark Webber. His disastrous start has been blamed on problems sending back clutch and KERS data from the car to the pits on his out lap to the grid, something which is key for engineers to be able to set up the clutch position in order to make the optimum race start.

MESL and the teams need to get on top of this quickly as the McLaren Group already have enough on their plates, trying to turn a dismal and desperate start to the new season into something positive to show the world.

It’s only race one, but it won’t be long before the media start writing up the inevitable stories about McLaren’s championship being over already and pointing to the fact that Lewis Hamilton and Paddy Lowe have moved on as potential factors.

The truth is that they’ve taken a massive gamble, something Paddy was instrumental in engineering before announcing his departure. Lewis, whilst a magnificent driver and someone the team would ideally love to have with them, isn’t the reason for the problems and whilst you may argue the team might’ve scraped two cars into the point today, just, if he was in one, he’s not the answer they need.

Right now they aren’t managing to make it work, but they’re a big team, with big resources and some very clever people at Woking, who won’t rest until things are turned around. Let’s not forget, this time last year Ferrari were in a very similar position with the F2012 and the struggles forced them to dig deeper than most in search of pace and technical development. McLaren will do the same and only a fool would write them off so early.

Marc Priestley


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